Today You Can Just Breathe
I can hear the people screaming on the roller coaster from where I’m sitting. I can see it over the rooves of buildings and behind a spike of palm trees—two crosshatched hills, and then there is the ocean. I rode that roller coaster thirty-one years ago with my college roommate when we drove down to Santa Cruz from L.A. to explore, and I swore I’d never ride another one when we got off that rickety wooden thing. And I haven’t.
I don’t feel much of a pull to the ocean here. I don’t know if my brain and body really recognizes the difference between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, but my heart sure does. I don’t even care about swimming in this water. I’ve lived a five-minute walk from the ocean for almost four months now and I’ve yet to dive in. If this were the Atlantic I’d be in there now, or on a boat, fishing.
I feel the same way about the Giants. I could care less about how that team does, but show me a Red Sox cap and my heart starts to race even though I have no idea who the players are any more. Yaz and Tiant and Bucky Fucking Dent aren’t casting their shadows on the field, but in my mind they are still there. Home comes in pieces, and even though I haven’t lived on the East Coast for over half my life, is it that landscape, that language, that light I feel in my body.
Yesterday I read a tweet by Jessenia Arias @iamadopted where she said, “It’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe,” and suddenly my day got easier. I went back to bed even though it was the afternoon and sunny and Memorial Day weekend. I went back to bed because I felt like some sort of filled candy—only instead of the filling being something sweet it was exhaustion. The surface of me could have gone on all day doing its thing, but the center of me wanted the waters to still until the ache of living fully crested and subsided.
I lay down and I felt afraid. I felt I should keep moving. I felt I should do the laundry or buy a new book or eat something. There was beer in the refrigerator. I could have had a beer. It was a holiday weekend, who cared if it was day drinking? I felt afraid because when I stopped moving I got to feel the ocean of grief I’d finally acknowledged I’d been swimming in my whole life when I wrote my memoir You Don’t Look Adopted. I felt afraid because last year at this time I was in New York writing about this ocean, and I thought I’d been done with it by now. I thought I’d be better.
To swim in the ocean of grief is a lonely thing, and it feels like it is a forever thing. But as I lay in bed and resisted the urge to move, I realized that oceans have shores, and that this ocean, also, no matter how vast, had to have a shore. I relaxed; I breathed. I could hang on if I knew there was a shore.
When Jessenia said it was okay just to breathe, she gave me permission not to go Type A on the grief of adoption and to let it run its course. It’s good to be reminded that breathing can be a full-time job. There are many books just on breathing, on pranayama: The Yoga of Breath, Light on Pranayama, A Life Worth Breathing, The Breathing Book. Breathing is a thing. Try skipping it for a day and tell me how it goes.
My friend works for a big company, and when I told him I’d seen the Coors plant in Golden, Colorado, he told me that he’d learned Coors spends more on cans per year than his company profits in a year. Cans. For something that is not essential (I know, I know, we can argue this point) for human beings to live. For something, truly, that exists because many people are afraid of the ocean of grief and prefer to numb the edges on a bar stool or in front of the TV.
The screaming’s getting louder. The clouds have parted and it’s sunny now and the boardwalk is in full swing. The people are getting scared for fun, paying money so they can think they might die. I wish I liked rollercoasters. I wish I thought it was fun to be scared. But I don’t. I like solid ground.
Yesterday was a good day. I lay in bed until I wasn’t so tired any more, and then I got up and I worked on the anthology I want to create where adopted people will write about being teenagers. I want all adoptees to feel they have a voice, and that wanting is part of home for me now. I love it. It is something else for me to swim in: the desire for everyone to be heard.